Back Office Efficiency cycle

Back Office Introduction

Back Office planning is nothing new; back offices have been around for hundreds of years, we simply used to call them offices. The challenge around managing areas of multiple tasks and processes has been the ability to efficiently track volumes, workflow and productivity without somebody standing there counting, timing or even guessing what the workload is.

The growth of Call centres in the last 40-50 years, along with technological advances to improve efficiency and professionalism, has resulted in a great emphasis on measurement and refinement to ensure the “return on investment”. With this increased level of insight and control, operations are looking to  take the same discipline into a Back Office environment  to either increase customer excellence, or obtain a tighter grip on costs.

The key challenge is that the way in which control and efficiency is delivered in the front office does not bear a close relationship to the way efficiencies (and whatever that looks like to each individual) can be achieved in the back office environment.

Back Office Efficiency Cycle

As has been know for decades in all environments, what success looks like for any operation strongly dictates the way efficiency can be described and planned. Determining your success criteria is essential for setting out a strategy, and all decisions should be cross checked to ensure they deliver  the strategy and the required behaviours.

This then takes the centre of the efficiency cycle, as it needs to be referenced in every decision, process, task and plan.

While the efficiency cycle has no starting point or end point, as with operational excellence, constant review and refining is one of the key aspects of the best practises in organisations so we will start with our processes for our review of the cycle.

Process

Understanding what our processes are is harder than we think. Do we understand all our customers touch points? Do we understand all our own touch points? Obtaining a good, clear and comprehensive view of our workflow is paramount to obtain control. There is no coincidence in the growth of operation solutions such as Six Sigma, Lean and Systems Thinking to help us look at our processes through a different lens to deliver against our objectives.

Understanding where we have waste in our processes, procedures and task is where we will find savings or improve the customer experience within a back office environment, and having a great set of process maps makes this process easier.

Data

What have we done? What are we going to do? How did we do against it? What went wrong? What can we manage against? What can we celebrate? What can we change? What are the trends? Etc. etc…

The majority of the things we wish to do in a back office environment would be easier to achieve and track if we had a more robust, reliable and timely set of data to work against. However, whether the data is about customer experience, productivity or the contribution of individuals, this is often seen as the biggest challenge in a back office environment. How do I obtain data on somebody opening an envelope?

Understanding what data is important for all the others areas of the efficiency cycle (success criteria, processes, planning and performance management) is often the chicken and egg syndrome. Do we plan and measure what we can metrificate, or do we go through the pain and cost of metrification to help us performance manage and plan towards our goals?

Then we need to also question the accuracy requirements of this data, but then that’s another debate in its own right.

Planning

Planning in a Back office environment has one MAJOR difference from planning in an inbound environment and that is where you approach the numbers from. Inbound planning starts a long way out, with the numbers reviewed and refined leading up to the moment when a customer contacts, and making sure we have the right people, with the right skills, in the right place at the right time.  Back office planning is very different as often the service goals are greater than 24 hours, which means we are not planning for a queue, but we are planning for a backlog. This means that although the same disciplines can be applied, you have to start at the moment: so how many do I have, with what skills at what time? Then we manage our demand around this and work backwards to a longer term view. WHY, I hear you ask? Well that’s quite simple, as when we work in a back log environment, decisions we make now are not about just fixing the performance today, but it is also about yesterday’s performance, the day before and so on, but also tomorrow, and the day after etc. as the decisions we make impact the service levels for yesterday, today and tomorrow. Not the easiest thing to work out on the back of a fag packet!

Performance Management

In a back office environment, especially one which adopts this efficiency model, performance management is not just about the people we work with, but it’s the performance of our processes and our plans themselves. Sure we need to ensure that colleague x is working at a certain productivity on skill set b but we also need to understand the number of b’s we have  within the expected levels within our plan, as we may no longer want colleague x to be working on b regardless of their productivity level.

This is then further expanded into complexity when we consider that the processes are not functioning as expected and are driving more demand into b than expected and is making the productivity of colleague x on skill set b incorrect compared to what we have in the plan, targets, incentives and so on…aaarrrgh!

Without readily available data on the things that matter, it becomes increasingly difficult to track whether the performance of the key parts of our environment are actually delivering against our success criteria.
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